In the spring of 1988, Tony Roider owned a shop at 124 W. Mill Street in Waterloo.
Since he owned that shop, Roider had vendors come in and sell him produce. Seeing the quality of their product, Roider persuaded two of his vendors to begin a farmers market with him.
At the original market, vendors sold fewer products than they do now, with apples, peaches, asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and melons making up most of their products.
Despite a somewhat low variety, current Monroe County Farmers Market financial secretary Art Lehr said people still liked it.
“Years ago, it was great,” Lehr said.
Over the years, the market has moved around, with a particular highlight being when it was located in downtown Waterloo.
At that time, downtown had more stores than it does now, leading to more potential customers.
Given that bump in business, the market increased its offering. It had more vegetables, bedding and hanging plants. It also showcased canned and baked goods. It even had live music.
“They had all kinds of things back then to accommodate kids,” Lehr said.
The market has had its struggles over the years.
Recently, Lehr said it has seen a decreasing customer base and vendor count.
“Up until a couple years ago, it was pretty slow,” he said. “We lost a couple vendors.”
The market has also faced some of the same struggles it has had for 30 years.
“A lot of people come and look what we have in season and pick up a couple items,” he explained. “A lot of people are regular customers. It’s hit and miss and the market business is always like that.”
Lehr also said it can prove challenging to operate a farmers market in Illinois.
“You don’t see Illinois push markets as much as you do other states like Michigan or Ohio,” he noted. “In other states there are papers and magazines promoting farmers markets everywhere. It’s hard to get people inclined to come without advertisement by the state or towns.”
Despite all that adversity, the market has continued going strong. One of the ways it has done so is by adapting to the times by using Facebook to promote itself.
The social media strategy has paid dividends.
“Last year and this year has picked up quite a bit,” Lehr said. “The more publicity with us being on Facebook has helped us quite a bit.”
Currently, the market sets up shop at Family Video in Waterloo on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon and at Schnucks Market Place in Columbia on Thursdays from 3-6 p.m.
At the current market, four produce vendors sell their wares. There are also canned items like jellies, which are popular, and products made out of honey. A knife and tool sharpener also provides services to customers.
All vendors come from local areas, with Waterloo, Red Bud, Prairie du Rocher and Chester having representation.
With its diversity of products, Lehr said the main reason people should shop at the market is its local flavor.
“If you’re looking for more local products, niche or specialty items, come to us,” he said. “We’re selling local items. We’re not bringing in oranges or bananas or anything you wouldn’t find here in season in Southern Illinois. And you’ll see things you won’t see in the store. Plus, in the open air, everything seems more attractive.”
The market takes cash only.
Lehr said the market is also interested in someone to sell homemade crafts. The fee is just $10 per day or $75 per year to be a vendor.
For more information, search “Monroe County IL Farmers Market” on Facebook.